Holy Island Book Launch

island1In May1608, Inis Cealtra or Holy Island became one of the ‘Notable Shrines’ in Ireland to which Pope Paul V attached a plenary indulgence. This was at the request of the Earls of Ulster who fled Ireland after the disastrous battle of Kinsale in 1601. The Earls had a private audience with the Pope in 1608 and twelve sites in Ireland were granted this special indulgence.

The Island has been a centre of pilgrimage for over one thousand years.





island2On a 9th century cross, fastened to the inside, south wall of St Caimin’s church there is what appears to be a figure walking, holding a long staff.  It is depicted on the end of an arm but unfortunately some of it is broken.  This image undoubtedly depicts a pilgrim. On the other side of the cross, Adam and Eve are depicted.





island3A beautiful 10th century grave marker with a Latin cross, commemorates Cosgrach Laigneach, Cosgrach the Leinsterman. This famous memorial has the imprint of two shoes (not feet), one above the arm of the cross, the other below it. Cosgrach, probably died on a pilgrimage to the island. This unique, East Clare, icon of Celtic Art was removed some years ago and put into storage in Athenry.  Numerous efforts to have the original or a model returned to its rightful place in the Saint’s graveyard on Holy Island have been unsuccessful.  




After the Pope’s intervention in 1608, the island became one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in Ireland. In 1609, the Lord Deputy, Sir Arthur Chichester reported that at least 15,000 pilgrims had gathered together on Holy Island, ‘the week before Easter last.’

In 1680, Thomas Dinely, an Englishman from Southampton, stated, that once a year, ‘the superstitious Irish go to do penance here and walk around barefooted seven times, and they who fear hurting their feet hire others to do it.’

In 1836, Philip Dixon Hardy, author of The Holy Wells of Ireland, published an eye witness account of a pilgrimage to the Island. ‘The pilgrims make 280 rounds, the circumference of some being a mile, others half a mile.’ This penance or punishment ‘is but small in comparison to the benefits they have received.’

To commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Pope’s intervention, a new publication was published in June 2008. The book, in full colour, is primarily about pilgrimages to this mysterious and beautiful place. It also contains chapters on the folklore of the island and the graveyard inscriptions.

                                                                                                Gerard Madden